TELFORD VICE at Seddon Park
FOR more than an hour at Seddon Park on Tuesday South Africa seemed resolved to batting out the day and a bit that would earn them their series against New Zealand.
Then five wickets fell for 46 runs and that day and a bit loomed like a week in politics.
By stumps on the fourth day of the third test the visitors were 80/5 in their second innings – or still 95 runs away from making New Zealand bat again.
Crucially, the men at the crease were Faf du Plessis and Quinton de Kock, who between them have scored five of the seven half-centuries the South Africans have registered in this rubber.
Where there’s Du Plessis and De Kock there’s hope, especially as the rest of South Africa’s available batsmen probably don’t have what it takes to survive most of a day on a pitch that is taking turn and against an attack that includes off-spinner Jeetan Patel and left-arm spinner Mitchell Santner.
How did it come to this?
Kane Williamson’s wicket was what mattered when play resumed, and South Africa got that job done before lunch when New Zealand’s captain top-edged a pull to a Morne Morkel bouncer and a tumbling Vernon Philander claimed a well-judged catch at fine leg.
With that ended one of the finest innings played against South Africa since re-admission, an admirably unemphatic monument to patience, hard work and the importance of putting team before self.
Williamson’s chanceless 176 took him more than seven-and-a-half hours, came off 285 balls and included 16 fours and three sixes.
Better than that, it earned New Zealand a shot at victory – an opportunity they are in the process of taking.
Colin de Grandhomme rapped a feisty 57 but the home side’s middle and lower order didn’t put up too much resistance.
The Kiwis were dismissed with a lead of 175, their last six wickets falling for 108 runs with Morkel and Kagiso Rabada splitting eight scalps.
Then the wheels fell off.
Dean Elgar was caught behind playing an uncharacteristically between and betwixt prod to De Grandhomme.
Theunis de Bruyn was run out after a clumsy – and avoidable – collision with Hashim Amla, who cut hard at a wide delivery from Jeetan Patel and was caught at slip.
Patel grabbed another when JP Duminy showed alarming negligence by leaving a ball that duly bowled him, and Temba Bavuma’s reckless wafting drive at Matt Henry had him caught behind.
South Africa batted like men who had spent almost 12 hours in the field – which they had.
On Wednesday, they will have to bat like men who understand they need to spend the best part of seven hours at the crease.